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Reporting on apprenticeships
By Steve Besley

18 May 2012


Always a passionate advocate, the Skills Minister appeared before the Select Committee Inquiry into apprenticeships this week and declared “an unprecedented level of satisfaction” amongst all those engaged in the programme. He based his claim on a clump of reports that have just come out, three from BIS and one from the Public Accounts Committee

What do the reports tell us?

Two of the reports from BIS are surveys, sampling the views of employers and apprentices respectively and although much of the data collected pre-dated some of the recent quality changes for apprenticeships, they provide an interesting user’s perspective

Employers, over 4,000 of whom were surveyed late last year, were pretty positive. Although leaning heavily on responses from a small group of sectors, the survey did reflect the views of SMEs, an important area of interest at present. The sorts of headline figures that so pleased the Minister included 77% who were satisfied with how the system was working, 75% with the quality of recruits and 66% with the quality of the training. An obvious plus was that 96% of employers could point to at least one benefit from taking on an apprentice. There were few downsides although some may question the extent of fee contributions indicated

As for the apprentices themselves, nearly 90% were satisfied with the quality of their training, 85% who had completed were still in a job and 77% were now clearer about their career options. An obvious plus from this mass of data was that 87% believed that taking up an apprenticeship had given them a greater confidence in their abilities while on the downside those on short duration, fixed term or required training schemes seemed less well served

The third research report from BIS looked at net benefits through a number of employer case studies. Again there’s a mass of data provided but perhaps two points stand out. One was some unease about fee loans with employers unclear what the impact on them might be and the other was how quickly employers could recoup costs from taking on an apprentice, so-called the ‘payback period.’ Average time after training had been completed was 1-2 years

What about the Public Accounts Committee Report?

This looked at adult apprenticeships and took evidence earlier this year. It was equally positive in tone, labelling the programme “a success” but it did highlight four concerns. First that more should be done to maximise the benefits, “the NAS should give employers and individuals better information about the benefits arising from different types of apprenticeship.” Second, better understanding was needed about the true costs of apprenticeship training. Third, more needed to be done to guarantee the quality of off-the-job training and fourth, and a question put to the Minister in his Select Committee appearance, the relationship between the SFA and NAS needed better definition

The issue for many employers however, as the CBI indicated in its response, remains slashing red tape, making it easier for employers to become involved; that would top all scores.

© Steve Besley, Head of Policy, The Pearson Centre for Policy and Learning 2012.